Casey to remain in Áras race; Govt warns against complacency as Higgins in pole position

Update 3.20pm: The Government has warned against complacency as strong favourite Michael D Higgins enters the last week of campaigning for the presidency.

The incumbent is in pole position to win the race following next Friday’s election and has received the backing of ministers as well as most of the establishment.

Controversial outsider Peter Casey confirmed in an interview with a Sunday newspaper that he would remain in the race.

He recently drew measures of criticism and support after denying that Travellers could be considered members of an ethnic minority.

Writing in The Sunday Independent today he says he has been inundated with messages of support.

In the paper, Mr Casey refused to apologise for his Travellers’ remarks.

Mr Casey has also penned an open letter saying that he has "been troubled the last couple days.

"To read articles that say I am a racist hurts. To hear the Taoiseach, who I always respected, say people shouldn’t vote for me also hurts, deeply.

"I was so shaken up by it all; I considered dropping out of the race. To hell with it, I thought, if people want to believe all the nonsense then I’m just throwing up my hands and walking away from politics."

Mr Casey said since his comments he has received "thousands of texts, emails, and phone calls" supporting him.

Addressing Travellers in the letter, the 61-year-old said: "Anyone who has followed my campaign knows my number-one issue has been diaspora.

"Having lived around the world, I recognise the strength of the worldwide Irish community. No matter where you go, you would be shocked how many people, many who’ve never even visited our country, identify themselves first and foremost as “Irish”.

He added:

I have spoken at length about all the ways to harness this Irish pride to strengthen Ireland’s prominence. And I will do whatever I can to unite the worldwide Irish communities, whether they are in Boston, Bombay or wherever. And when someone talked to me recently about the Travelers’ who have lived in Ireland for centuries, I rightly viewed them as “Irish” too.

They live in our country, go to our schools, and vote in our elections. In fact, I believe, if we all accepted them more as “Irish”, we would do so much more to remedy their longstanding problems, like chronic unemployment, homelessness, and a suicide rate that is six-times the national average.

"I respect the Travelers’ culture and traditions, but I will always think them first and foremost as “Irish” too.

"If that is wrong, I am not apologising."

It is believed he will meet his team tomorrow to set out plans for the last few days of the campaign.

The Sunday Business Post newspaper’s RED C poll surveyed 1,000 voters from Thursday October 11 to Wednesday October 17 and poll findings published suggested that support for Mr Higgins stood at 68%.

Pre-election comment has partly centred on Mr Higgins’ expenses while in office.

Fine Gael’s Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said: “While the polls look very good for Michael D at the moment, elections are decided by who turns up on the day so we cannot be complacent.”

The other candidates include Sinn Fein’s Liadh Ni Riada, businessmen Sean Gallagher and Gavin Duffy and Senator Joan Freeman.

On Saturday it emerged the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had disputed Mr Higgins’ claim that he had to use a private jet to get to an engagement in Belfast for security reasons.

Ms Doherty said she was unconditionally supporting Mr Higgins’ re-election.

“Combining intellect, empathy, passion and a fantastic fluency with words, he has proven to be a true statesman who reflects the best of what this country is all about,” she said.

“All his life Michael D. Higgins has been an advocate for justice and progress. Both as a member of Seanad Eireann and a TD for Galway West he was fearless in challenging inequity and injustice.

“For decades he championed issues including decent employment, public housing provision, the rights of people with disabilities and ethical standards for public office holders.

“As a consistent voice for equality, he fought for elimination of poverty and a ‘citizenship floor’ of basic rights and participation below which no citizen should fall.

“He has always maintained a strong interest in justice and peace worldwide.”

- Digital Desk & Press Association

Earlier: Poll shows President Michael D Higgins on track for second term

Michael D Higgins retains his significant lead over other candidates contesting the Presidential Election, according to the latest opinion poll.

The Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitudes poll shows that the incumbent is on track for another term in the Áras with 69% of the vote.

He is 58% ahead of his closest rival Sean Gallagher who is on 11%.

Liadh Ni Riada sits in third on 7%, Joan Freeman has 6% and Gavin Duffy is on 4%.

Peter Casey, who is taking the weekend off to consider his position in the race, props up the table on 2%.

The poll surveyed 930 voters, and has a 3.3% margin of error.

However, the poll was conducted between October 5 and October 16 which was before Mr Casey's comments on the Travelling Community emerged.

The former Dragon's Den star sparked controversy this week by saying he does not recognise Travellers as a distinct ethnic minority and they are "basically people camping in other people's land".

Mr Casey indicated today that he is likely to continue his bid for the Áras and is more determined than ever to remain in the race.

Writing in the Sunday Independent, the businessman says he has received messages of support since he announced he would decide, over the weekend, whether to withdraw from the contest.

Digital Desk

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